KANSAS CITY — As more and more retailers move toward either building their own commissaries and central bakeries or utilizing independent facilities to produce their prepared foods and baked foods, the importance of efficient, reliable ovens rises.

“The commissary bakery seems to be a growing business as regional chains set up these commissary bakeries and kitchens,” said Daniel Lago, chief executive officer of Revent, Inc. “We’ve seen that take off quite a bit in the last three or four years.”

Versatile cooking

Mr. Lago said Revent’s ovens are not only used for baking but also increasingly are used for cooking prepared meals, pasta dishes, proteins and more.

“We’re seeing more chains utilizing commissaries for other food products and ready-made meals,” he said. “My guess is that maybe they see better possibilities with those products than traditional baked goods.”

WP Bakery Group also is seeing some need for this versatility, said Bruce Gingrich, the company’s vice-president of sales.

This brings steam into the picture. When baking, the goal is to take moisture out of the product as efficiently as possible. When cooking, however, as much moisture as possible needs to be maintained to make proteins more tender and to maintain weight of the product.

“Our ovens are very well known for their steaming ability, which is obviously very important in the process,” Mr. Gingrich said. ““We use cast aluminum steam generation while most use stainless steel, which isn’t as effective.”

The ovens offer solid steam and a spritz-in second steam, which is unique in that most ovens need time to regenerate heat for another batch of steam.

“Ours is efficient enough that you can steam with two baking steps in a row,” Mr. Gingrich said.

Revent, meanwhile, offers an accessory to its rack ovens that allows facilities to swap out the standard baking system for an external steam generator that produces continuous steam.

“When you bake, you really only need the steam right at the beginning of the cycle,” Mr. Lago said. “When you cook some products, you want to add the steam throughout the whole cycle to maintain the weight and get a more tender product.”

Belshaw’s newest addition to its line of rack ovens — the Adamatic OVEN-2010 and OVEN-2020 — include a flash spray steam system that helps deliver the correct amount of steam at the correct time.

The two ovens (the 2010 is a single rack model while the 2020 is a double) are highlighted by a load of standard features and energy saving benefits, according to the company.

Standard features include a 275 kBTU/hour heating system that modulates gas supply smoothly, which can reduce heat loss and energy consumption. It also helps with what the company said is the fastest start-up and recovery time among major rack ovens — 8.28 minutes of start-up time and 2.17 minutes of recovery time.

Making things simple

Finding enough qualified workers is a big challenge in today’s bakeries and central kitchens.

“We’re hearing a lot of bakers, especially on the West coast, saying they can’t find good people,” Mr. Gingrich said.

Automation and recipe storage can play a key role in making ovens work for any level of employee. WP Bakery Group offers its Navigo 3 control system to lend a helping hand to workers.

“It makes things easy to handle from that standpoint,” Mr. Gingrich said. “You can put in recipes and baking times, when to steam, really step-by-step baking.”

The system can store up to 200 recipes with up to 20 baking steps each.

“Once the baker puts in that information, you can then have a fairly non-skilled person operate the oven,” Mr. Gingrich said. “You basically just have to take the pictogram, put the product in the oven, and push the button and the oven does the rest. It gives you repeatable results with limited skill as far as the actual workers go.”

Belshaw’s Adamatic ovens have a full-featured touch-screen controller that allows the operator to choose from more than 100 recipes or use the manual baking option.

Staying efficient, consistent

Mr. Gingrich said WP’s ovens feature patented cyclothermic controls that move air between the decks in a way that produces an even bake. German ovens, he said, are typically designed in a way to keep any temperature variations within 15 degrees.

“When you go to a cheaper deck oven, you might have varied heat from front to back, left to right, of up to 60 or 70 degrees,” he said. “With German engineering, they feel that color variation is not acceptable, and that’s what you get when you have big differences in the temperature.”

WP’s four-deck oven can bake at two different temperatures at the same time, helping with efficiency. Mr. Gingrich pointed out that if a baker only needs to utilize two of the decks, the remaining two can be turned low enough that it results in a substantial energy savings.

When it comes to quick in-quick out production, Mr. Lago said Revent has seen an uptick in sales of pass-through ovens

“You put the rack in with the product from one side, and when it’s finished you pull it out from the other,” he said. “The two areas are totally separated.”

This helps with using the oven for different cooking applications back-to-back.

Help with sanitation

The right oven can help a facility in its sanitation efforts, Mr. Lago said.

“Sanitation is where you see most of the operational challenges because most of these facilities outsource their sanitation,” he said. “When the day’s production is finished, they’ll have an outside crew come in.”

If an oven can’t easily be washed down, it can cause problems with these outside workers.

“They’ll come in and hose down the ovens, which might short-circuit control boards and things like that,” Mr. Lago said.

He said another key part of an oven’s computer is the ability to download data from the equipment.

“You can download all the basic HACCP data that you need, and it’ll give you all the temperatures and times you need,” he said. “That’s big when it comes to inspections and just general operations.”